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CHITRA SWAMINATHAN in The Hindu

For Radhika Shurajit, Bharatanatyam is not exclusively for the elite.

Radhika Shurajit

LOOKING FOR CHALLENGES: Radhika Shurajit with a disciple.

Just the other day when Radhika Shurajit entered the canteen of a sabha after performing a lecture-demonstration and saw the ‘today’s special’ board that was put up, she became emotional. At the bottom of the board was written ‘Thaka Dhimi Tha’ along with a simple sketch of a boy and girl dancing. Apparently, the man who runs the canteen likes Radhika’s dance show by the same name on Jaya TV, and thought the title aptly reflected the Margazhi mood.

Another memorable instance is when the owner of a small brass vessel shop in Pazhani from where Radhika bought a pair of salangai suggested that she watch talented youngsters perform on ‘Thaka Dhimi Tha’.

“Responses such as these are what make my artistic journey fulfilling. And, I feel really good about reaching classical dance to the common man through the popular medium of television,” says Radhika.

Her award-winning weekly dance show ‘Thaka Dhimi Tha’ has completed 350 episodes. Conceived of and directed by Radhika, the show provides a platform to up-and-coming Bharatanatyam artists from across the country, and sometimes abroad. It also features senior exponents of the art form as judges.

Television helped Radhika regain the rhythm of her life when a knee problem put an abrupt end to her promising performing career. “I used to perform along with my sisters Shobana and Gayathri and we were popularly referred to as Trio Sisters.” Disciples of the Dhananjayans, the sisters made a name for themselves in the dance field in a short time.

“It was difficult to come to terms with life without dancing. It was then that I turned my attention towards the small screen and thought about doing a show based on classical dance. Thankfully, the idea has been very well received.”

“Dance through lens” became the focus of her life. She analysed and explored the art from a new angle. She also learnt to shoot dance sequences with different cameras. “Performing before a camera is not the same as performing on stage. The expressions, make-up and costume should be understated. Otherwise, you could end up looking dreadful in close-up shots. A dancer should be conscious about the limited space and time. She or he should know when not to look at the camera. I learnt many such things from experience and observation.”

Besides ‘Thaka Dhimi Tha,’ Radhika has also made dance capsules for BBC, come up with ad campaigns and choreographed classical dance sequences for films, including the award-winning “Nila Kaigiradhu…” (from “Indira”). But, what she seems to enjoy most is training youngsters who join ‘Thrayee’, her dance school.

“Every time a student performs, I see myself in her. I think it’s very important for any youngster to learn an art. It adds a new dimension to one’s personality and helps them look at the world from a different perspective,” says Radhika.

Over the years, she has choreographed a range of thematic performances, including those based on the compositions of Balamuralikrishna, Kannadasan’s songs, songs rendered by M.L. Vasanthakumari and M.S. Subbulakshmi in films, Sangam poetry, and more.

“Passionate about cinema, I adapted many of the lyrical gems of yesteryear into my dance. It’s thrilling to choreograph them in my own way. I do not tamper with the music, but sometimes add appropriate jatis. Being used in films does not mean these compositions are less poetic. If modern verses can be taken up, why not these timeless melodies?” says Radhika.

If you are looking for books on Bharata Natyam, Carnatic music or books (or CDs, and DVDs) on any Indian arts, head straight to The Karnatic Music Book Centre in Royapettah, Chennai. The small shop, located near the Deccan Plaza hotel (near the Royapettah bridge), has all cultural books under one roof. The shop is run by Mr Vinod Kumar and Mr Hemant Kumar.

You will find one of them in the shop itself. They are extremely courteous  and helpful.

They also have a Web site: http: http://carnaticbooks.com/ . Use the drop-down menu at the top to change your preference for currency. If you are buying from India, click on the drop-down menu to change it to Indian Rupees.

The address is:

The Karnatic Music Book Centre,

23A, Sripuram First Street,

Royapettah, Chennai – 600 014

Phone: (91) 044 – 28111716 ;  28113253

When you head towards Mylapore from Royapettah, take the road on the left of the Royapettah flyover. The road that turns left next to the Deccan Plaza hotel is Sripuram First Street. The shop is at the second building on the left.

Please don’t rely on Google Map search. Though the Google search throws up the correct address, the map shows a wrong location.

Anusham Dance Group

Inextricably entwined with the sacred belief and philosophy of the people of India, the classical arts, are the ladder of understanding that encompasses all learning, all sciences and all discipline leading tAnusham logoo Gnana. The sojourn of an artist is as much within himself as it is without. From the mundane to the divine, from gross to the subtle, religion to aesthetics the arts traverse a path so hidden yet so apparent. The quintessence of Indian ideology is based on the oxymoronic substratum of losing yourself to find ‘Oneself .Tradition sows the seed, time nurtures and experience ripens the fruit called learning. To partake of that fruit, to revel in that magnificence, to experience that Aananda- we have set out.
– Anusha and Narendra

THE GURUS

With my gurus
Narendra Kumar

Narendra Kumar is an early student of the Dhananjayans. He has earned a name for himself as a skilled Bharata Natyam dancer and choreographer. Eager to explore different dimensions in dance, he has studied martial arts such as Kalaripayyattu, Silambam and Tai-Chi. He has his dance establishment Anusham and is a teacher, choreographer and performer, along with his wife Anusha. He travels to the US often to work with dancers/choreographers and to aid them in their productions.

Anusha Narendra Kumar

Anusha Narendra Kumar is a disciple of the Dhananjayans and is well known as an excellent exponent of Bharata Natyam. She is the wife of Narendra Kumar and they are gaining a reputation as a skilled dancing couple. She is a teacher in their school “Anusham” and they also work with dancers in the US conducting classical dance workshops and assisting in choreography. She won audience appreciation and critical acclaim for her performance in Living Tree. She is also earning a name as a fine visual artist.

Click here to read the article by Samanth Subramanian about L. Narendra Kumar in the Sunday Magazine section of The New Indian Express

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN (from The Hindu)

Anita Ratnam’s latest production ‘Ma3ka’ is a string of thoughts and reflections.

It’s hard to ignore Anita Ratnam’s art. Because, it operates at many levels — personal, traditional and contemporary. Because, the approach is holistic — angika, vachika and aharya get equal attention. Because, most significantly, her choreographic works throb with a rare energy, honesty and imagination.

Each time I dance, I should have something to convey,” says the charismatic dancer as she gets ready to premiere ‘Ma3ka’ this Season.

I have the life experience, the training in the art form and the eternal desire to find my own ways to re-engage with the audience.”

Like most of Anita’s previous works such as ‘Arya Tara’, ‘Daughters of the Ocean’, ‘Neelam’, ‘Naachiyar’, ‘Utpala’, ‘Seven Graces’ and ‘Faces’, ‘Ma3ka’ too celebrates the female imagery. Once again, the dancer gives a human face to goddesses by combining the sacred and the worldly.

She explores a woman’s triumphs, angst, challenges and longings through the Supreme Trinity —Lakshmi, Saraswati and Meenakshi. The production also subtly touches upon the women in Anita’s family — her 95-year-old grandmother, who continues to influence with her traditional wisdom, her late mother’s support in the dancer’s multiple creative engagements over the years and her 22-year-old daughter, who wakes her up to the promises of tomorrow.

The strength of the spiritual and the inspiration of the mythological are undeniable but you instantly connect when the role models are real and closer. A reason why my productions are more about personal interpretations,” says the artist.

There are no storylines, just a string of thoughts and reflections. Revathy Sankkaran, with whom Anita shares a special rapport, is the narrator.

But what the multi-faceted dancer is most excited about is the young team of musicians and technicians that has worked tirelessly and enthusiastically on ‘Ma3ka.’

Anil Srinivasan, who has given a new sound to my new dance, has yet again come up with a fascinating music score. Viji Krishnan has provided some soulful violin tracks while K.S.R. Anirudha has composed an amazing percussion piece. Then there are Subiksha Rangarajan and multi-percussionist Darbuka Shiva. Lights, sets, costume, music, make-up, hairdo… every aspect is integral and well taken care of in my productions. It is a visually-stimulated world — what appeals to the eye often appeals to the soul too.”

As for movements, Anita will draw upon her training in Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Mohiniyattom, Kalaripayattu, Tai Chi and yoga. “There is enough vocabulary in my body. But I prefer to invest my contemporary works with a primal meditativeness. They need to suit my age and thought process.”

Anita takes her own time to work on the productions (‘Ma3ka’ took two years) and does not worry about the outcome. She choreographs them in a manner that is personally convincing. “I strongly believe in being contemporary, but on my own terms,” she smiles.

VIDYA SARANYAN (A review from The Hindu)

The silent pause preceding Kaikeyi‘s demand was easily one of the best moments in the Dhananjayans’ performance.

The riveting performances by V.P. Dhananjayan, Shanta Dhananjayan and their students reaffirmed their reputation as artists par excellence and worthy natyacharyas. After the invocatory number, the next piece Nrittaswaravali had dancers Venkatakrishnan and Pavitra Srinivasan display their rhythmic prowess. Their bright smiles, straight posture and vigour brought liveliness to the evening. Complex jatis to the various nadais formed the fabric of the Nrittaswaravali.

In the latter half of the evening, the glory of Siva‘s dance was essayed by Lavanya Raghuraman for ‘Adidum Arasae’. With her big eyes and a charming stage presence, she brought home all the dimensions of Siva‘s dance as envisaged by the poet. The sollukattu with the Nandi motif caught one’s attention for its aptness.

Another strong display of rhythm was to be seen in the Nrittangaharam, the concluding number in Behag and Khanda Ekam by Lavanya, Divya and Vedakrishnan. These numbers revealed the panache of the dancers and reinforced the dynamism of the evening. The vocalist for the second half was Vanathi, and the cymbals were wielded by Shanta Dhananjayan.

The limelight of the evening was the enactment from the Ramayana. ‘Sita Rama Katha’ from the Ramanatakam by Arunachala Kavi was positioned as the core piece. Here, Shanta Dhananjayan as Kooni (Manthara), Divya Shivsunder as Kaikeyi and V.P. Dhananjayan as Dasaratha enthralled the audience with their dramatic portrayal.

The succinct Patra pravesha for the maid Manthara established her diabolical intent, and simultaneously threw light on Kaikeyi, who was still unsullied by the dreams of power. With her rolling eyes, frowning brow and a positively evil grimace, Shanta Dhananjayan got under the skin of the character.

She was the villain incarnate with the bent back and the hand on the hip as she steadily corroded the best of Kaikeyi and in its place carved out a woman intent only on the coronation of her son. At times cajoling and at others manipulating, Shanta’s performance carried the audience. The stage was now set for Dasaratha to meet his nemesis. In his realistic performance as the king, Dhananjayan also incorporated some small touches that enhanced the content. The sidling movement of the feet, the pole axed fall, and especially the nippy shifting of moods from anger to disgust completed the high drama. Divya matched her teachers’ spirited delineation and portrayed the heartless Kaikeyi convincingly.

Sashidharan’s clear diction and his expressive singing pooled with the strong nattuvangam of Gopukiran for this part of the recital. Kalaiarasan’s fluid violin, Sunil Kumar‘s trills on the flute and Ramesh Babu’s proficient mridangam play were big pluses.

Yet, the moment of silence which preceded Kaikeyi’s demand was easily one of the best moments in the recital where body language and sentiment spoke more than words or song.

Mallika Sarabhai

Dancer Mallika Sarabhai talks to Manas Dasgupta of The Hindu about InterArt 2009, and how the festival has helped bring together artistes from across the world

InterArt 2009 is the 34th edition of the Vikram Sarabhai International Arts Festival in Ahmedabad, and Mallika Sarabhai, the director of Darpana Academy that organises the festival, says: “But, every time, it is different from the previous years.”

It was her parents — famed scientist Vikram Sarabhai, and bharatanatyam exponent Mrinalini Sarabhai — who set up the Academy, an arts and cultural institution. Held every year from December 28 to 30, the festival is celebrated in memory of her father — a great lover of the arts — who passed away on December 30, 1971.

Mallika Sarabhai tells Manas Dasgupta about the festival’s journey.

How did Vikram Sarabhai International Arts Festival begin?

The festival ‘InterArt’ was born a few years after my father’s death in 1971. He was a great lover of arts and a connoisseur, and it was felt that the best way to remember him would be by organising a yearly multi-arts festival in his hometown Ahmedabad. For the first 20 years, the festival was staged at Tagore Hall. In 1994, it was shifted to the present venue ‘Natrani’, our own stage on the Academy complex, right on the banks of the Sabarmati.

Why is it called ‘international’ arts festival, when it is never taken out of Ahmedabad?

Because, it offers international fare. For instance, for the last few years, Darpana has produced works with artistes from Peru, Egypt, Israel, Australia, Colombia, Spain, France, the U.K. and the U.S. This year’s collaboration is with Josh Hogan from Australia. The play on the first day, ‘Ahmedabad ki aurat bhali — Ramkali’, is an adaptation of famed German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht’s famous work ‘Good Woman of Setzuan’. It was also taken to Mumbai and Delhi. Years ago, another play ‘Kanan’, based on the same play, was staged in Ahmedabad. I had wanted it to travel to every part of Gujarat and the country, but funding is a huge problem. Getting sponsors in Gujarat for serious and experimental works is pretty impossible.

How is this year’s festival different from the previous years?

It is the only festival in India that showcases all forms of art — dance, music, mixed media, new media, puppetry, theatre, and all the crossovers possible. This year we have a French photographer as a resident artiste. She’s been shooting during the rehearsals and the behind-the-scenes of the performances, and will exhibit her work at the festival. ‘Naada, the Happening’, on the concluding day of the festival, is an ambitious project. We explore the performance using all the five senses, with ‘Naada and Naadabrahma’, the primordial sound from which came ‘Aum’. The audience too is taken on a journey of the senses — sight, smell and feel… We hope it becomes an experience, rather than a mere viewing. The second day’s performance ‘Dakshina’, is by the U.S.-based Daniel Phoenix Singh’s Dance Company. An Indian dancer trained in Western contemporary dance and bharatanatyam, Daniel does modern choreography and works by other choreographers, using both idioms.

How do the people of Ahmedabad, or, for that matter, Gujarat, benefit from the festival? How much does Darpana Academy gain from it?

Till Darpana came into being nearly 60 years ago, there was no classical dance in Gujarat. It not only does cutting edge work for the thinking audience, but also helped generate thinking audience. The festival is the highlight of all of a year’s performances, and is eagerly awaited. Darpana gains by collaborating with artistes from across the country and world. Over the last 16 years of its existence, Natrani has given over 1,200 presentations from 40 countries and across our country. It is an ever-enriching experience for us, I’m sure it’s the same for the audience too.

What are the traditional art forms the Academy promotes through the festival?

The festival is not a place to promote traditional forms; it is for innovative and cutting-edge works. We bring artistes together, give them the space, the performers, the set designers, carpenters, studios, video facilities — whatever they require. And, a beautiful setting for the final performance. I know of no other institution in India — funded or non-funded — that does all this, and has all this to give for free. Most institutions run like offices or are moribund Government organisations, pushing paper, making lots of money, and creating little. We are non-funded, and scrounge around for every penny. But, it is an art institution run by artistes, and not controlled by the Government or forced to follow the diktats of a board, having little sympathy or knowledge for the way artistes work. We are all artistes who take decisions, artistes who have built the spaces.

What are your future plans?

I would love to have someone fund the festival, and be able to take it to every part of the country, especially ‘B’ cities, where very little of interesting things travel to. Seeing interesting things help open one’s mind. I am sure our work will inspire many budding and talented artistes to do more, and differently at that. But, for that we need a lot of funds. Till then, we’ll keep creating new vistas in the world of art and performances.

An article by SAVITHA GAUTAM in THE HINDU that features my Gurus 

 

Artists from three continents came together for ‘Shifting Grounds’, a music-dance creation, performed in Germany.

 

image

CULTURAL RENDEZVOUS: The dancers who participated in ‘Shifting Grounds.’ On the extreme right are my Gurus Anusha and Narendra Kumar

Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan is bubbling with excitement these days. The reason? His recent success in Germany where he participated in ‘Shifting Grounds,’ a music-dance production put together by the University of Cologne under the leadership of producer Prof. Dr. Hans Neuhoff of the Cologne University.

The shows, held during May in three German cities (Cologne, Düsseldorf and Aachen), were supported by DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service).

 

“This is the first time, musicians and dancers from three continents — Asia, Africa and Europe — have pooled their talent to create a production that talks of life, human emotions and the art of communication,” says Krishnan, sitting in his T. Nagar home.

‘Shifting Grounds’ is the culmination of one and a half years of intense discussions and two months of rigorous rehearsals. Eight 90-minute shows were presented with 20 artists from Europe, West Africa (Senegal and Burkina Faso) and India (most of them were in Germany under the DAAD Fellowship programme) showcasing their talent.

The team

The production was conceptualised and produced by Hans, while music was composed by fellow professor and pianist Paulo Alvares and choreographed by Vera Sanders, also from the Cologne University.

 

The Indian flavour was provided by Krishnan and his violin, Ghatam V. Suresh, and dancers Anusha, Narendra Kumar and Sangeeta Isvaran.

On the genesis of the project, Hans in a telephonic conversation, explains, “The theme has its roots in the RASA theory of the Indian arts. It deals with the basic emotions of Man which can be expressed in many ways and yet, is universal. ‘Shifting Grounds’ is also about trans-cultural communication where non-verbal art forms are effectively employed to convey human emotions.”

 

Paulo shares similar thoughts. “The key words in this production are ‘contrasting’ and ‘shifting.’ ‘Contrasting’ because in the beginning, everything is so different — the styles, the traditions and even the language of expression. But finally, there is only one thought, one emotion. ‘Shifting’ because the styles literally move from one to the next in a smooth, harmonious manner.”

The stage for ‘Shifting Grounds’ was shared by two pianos, a violin and various percussion instruments.

 

The music was an eclectic mix of Western classical notes, Carnatic ragas and African rhythms. Says Paulo, “Believe me, we did not have a score at all! The music was in my mind. I allowed each musician the freedom to explore within a framework. That’s how the music evolved.” Paul, not familiar with Indian music till then, discovered “new sounds, rich cultures and different ways of thinking musically.”

The ragas represented

Talking about his musical contribution, Krishnan says, “I played snatches of such grand ragas as Varali, Vachaspati (‘Hans specifically requested it’), Revagupti and Kalyanavasantham. The Vachaspati raga alapana was the longest at 10 minutes! The raga suited the mood of the dance movements which express peace and calm.”

Hans, who studied under Lalgudi Jayaraman years ago, says, “Krishnan’s piece was the only sustained melodic sound in the whole production. his playing has won him many fans.”

For both Krishnan and Suresh, the German sojourn was a fun-filled learning experience.

 

Recalls Krishnan, “On the first day of the rehearsal, I did not know anybody except fellow Indians. Also, most of the others did not know English. But once I picked up my violin and played, the differences simply faded. Clichéd it may be, but music truly transcends barriers.”

Suresh adds, “There were some instruments which I had never seen before. Similarly, the African drummers were curious about the ghatam and the thavil. During the two months we were there, we were like one big family.

“In fact, Krishnan and I had to share an apartment with Fatou Cisse, a singer from Senegal. We had a fabulous time, trying out new recipes and learning French words. And yes, we taught her Tamil words.”

Talking about her role, Vera Sander says, “I spent two weeks in India trying to understand the various classical dance forms. I learnt about the mathematical precision, rhythm patterns and phrasing of Indian dances as also the strong link between dance and music.”

Her challenge was to create something which linked diverse styles without losing the distinct identity of each. “It was quite a challenge because we had to move away from the individual and find a common ground. In the end, what mattered was how effectively the movements conveyed the emotions…”

Will ‘Shifting Grounds’ find an Indian audience? Hans rues, “It is an expensive proposition. I do hope to take it to other parts of the globe.” But how? That remains to be seen.

 

(This article appeared in the Friday Review of The Hindu dated June 19, 2009)